It’s always been cheaper to get your previous customers to make additional purchases than it is to find new customers. This is especially true in eCommerce, where there are more and more sites competing for a finite number of internet users.
Customer profits also tend to increase the longer a customer spends shopping with you. However, retaining customers is also one of the most difficult jobs for an online store owner, so in order to tackle it, let’s look at it from a few angles.
Let’s start with why customers leave.
68% of customers go because they’re unhappy with the customer service. Compared to that, the rest of the reasons seem minuscule with 14% finding the products unsatisfactory and 9% finding a better deal from a competitor. So naturally, the first step would be to…
1. Make sure your customer service is up to par
Work on getting your tech support as fast, friendly, and knowledgeable as possible. If you’re a one-person operation, start reading up on your products and learn how to sound like you’re smiling over the phone.
For your customers who are on the fence about whether they want to take the time out of their day for an interaction that might be horribly unpleasant, it can often help to offer some sort of guarantee. Usually, it’s a promise that their questions will be answered in X amount of time.
But make sure not to brag too much about it. According to Datto’s Shannon Kohn, a great way to foster loyalty is to underpromise and over deliver. For instance, you can say a problem will be solved in 30 minutes, when you know it’ll be taken care of in 10. By setting expectations lower, you’ll seem more impressive when you consistently exceed them.
And make sure to be consistent in your interactions with customers and patient with even the rude ones. Remember, it only takes one negative experience to sour a customer, so make sure your reps realize that every service transaction, even the ones involving stupid questions, are equally worthwhile and important.
Well, sort of. Beware of people who abuse your customer service. These people, in the worst case scenarios, can often cost you more money than they earn you, and you’ll want to develop a separate strategy for dealing with them. In many of these cases, you’ll actually want to push these customers away (without actively being rude to them) because every minute they spend interacting with you is bringing you closer to operating at a loss.
2. Make creating an account simple and annoyance-free
Both one-time checkouts and required account creation have their pluses and minuses. The former can save your customers a ton of time filling out multiple sets of forms, checking their emails, and coming back. This is especially true if you’re on a mobile device, where filling out forms and navigating through multiple windows for one process is often a pain. The latter lets the owner of the site create detailed demographic information about the customer, and helps with retention.
So a balanced approach is usually the best. Optional account creation can give you some of the benefits of both, and the trick to persuading customers to go for it is to give the option to create an account after the first order has been placed.
3. Communicate with your customers
The eCommerce vendors with the highest customer turnover rates are often the ones who don’t follow up with customers after their purchase. You might buy something and never hear from them again. Checking in with a customer a few days after their product arrives is a great way to engage them in a dialogue about their experiences with you,—which will improve their perception of you—and gauge their satisfaction with your business and what you sell.
Another, more indirect way of doing this is to offer customized content or personalized recommendations, a la Amazon, based on the customer’s browsing and buying histories.
Finally, you can survey them. Satisfaction surveys help you figure out where you need to improve. Remember, for every customer who voices an opinion, there are fifteen silently thinking it. It can also help to ask for a reason for downgrades and cancellations, so that you even get useful data from people who are leaving, meaning that their departure will at least bring you some benefit.
4. Keep up with your email list
Time and time again, email has proven to be one of the top-converting channels for eCommerce.
You’ll want to send a variety of types of emails—primarily newsletters, but also notices about sales and promotions—as well as other tips that may be of use to your customer base. For example, a kitchen supplies seller could pass on recipes and information about how to pick a great frying pan.
For the newsletter, you’ll also want to include proof that your business is continually expanding and changing, but focus on news that customers can use. For example, if you find yourself able to do business in a country that you never were before, if you update or streamline your checkout process, or if you pick up a hot new line of products, these are all things that your customers may want to know about.
One more tip is to develop an email “personality” that will keep your customers more entertained than if you were to rely on dull corporate-speak. And even in your autoresponder emails, make sure to make them sound like a real person, who’s grateful for their business, wrote it.
5. Implement a customer loyalty program
This can be as simple as sending coupon codes out to your most loyal customers, or as complicated as instituting a points system that automatically rewards them for completing certain actions. However, some schools of thought say you should give offers, not discounts, as decreasing the price of your product will also hurt its perceived value. Things like free shipping, free samples, or store credit can serve as the incentives in this case.
6. Have a few sales
We’ve talked about creating urgency before, and mentioned that sales are a great way to do that. We stand by that, and would like to add that for customers who might have grown apathetic about your store, periodic sales are a good way to put the element of surprise back into it. You can pull in your old customers by sending them information on sales first, letting them know what’s going to happen before everyone else, and giving them a feeling of exclusivity.
As with the loyalty programs, there are people who say that you should use offers instead of discounts for your limited-time promotional events. As always, use your discretion.
As you’ve likely gathered by reading this past, there is a definite path to customer retention you’ll want to follow. This path involves communicating with your customers to find out if their expectations match what you deliver. It requires constantly improving your customer service while continuing to offer great products. It means occasionally surprising your customers with deals they won’t get anywhere else. And lastly, it means offering new and exciting updates so that your business always stays fresh in their minds.
What steps do you follow to increase customer retention? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.